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HTC to manufacture Facebook phone

Social networking giant Facebook is said to finally make its own smartphone, and has contracted Taiwan-based HTC to build the gadget. Web sources say the phone, codenamed "Buffy," may run on a heavily tweaked version of Google's Android OS.

They said the "Buffy" phone operating system will deeply integrate Facebook services, as well as to support HTML5 as a platform for applications, instead of Adobe’s Flash. However, the reports also say the phones may take some time before hitting the market, potentially as long as 12 to 18 months. It also said Facebook chose HTC after also considering Korea's Samsung.

Facebook CTO Bret Taylor is leading the smartphone project, media sources reported. However when reached for comment, a Facebook spokesman declined to say anything about the "Buffy" OS.

"Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social in nature. We are working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people across the globe," quoted the spokesman as saying.

Facebook said "Buffy" represents a significant shift for the social company, which has focused much of its mobile work on light collaborations with hardware makers.

Insiders say Facebook's partnership with HTC is the latest incarnation of the long-running project. HTC is one of several companies that have built phones with a dedicated Facebook button.

However, France Telecom’s Orange unit last week announced in a press briefing they will release a series of Facebook-centric phones aimed at emerging markets in Europe and Africa. But with "Buffy," the integration will go much deeper, bringing friends and social activities deep into the mobile interface.

“Mobile devices are inherently social,” Taylor himself said at an industry conference earlier this year. He added that mobile is critical to Facebook’s future, with moving directly into the phone business being essential for Facebook.

Facebook claims to have 350 million active mobile users, and relationships with 475 global mobile operators. On the other hand, Apple has fought to maintain strict control over payments within its mobile apps, including those that run off of Facebook’s platform. And it has also made Twitter its social partner.

For its part, the internet juggernaut Google is increasingly a direct competitor to Facebook, working to promote and integrate its own social network Google+ across all its known products.